Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thanks to the proliferation of film, comic-book and cartoon characters, companies are bombarding consumers with an incredible selection of action figures. With tongue in cheek, let’s take a peek at some of the specimens worthy of a place in …

Zad’s Toy Vault

Obi-Wan and Yoda

Hasbro continues to remind fans of George Lucas’ fantasy universe with waves of 33/4-inch action figures celebrating the 30th anniversary of the “Star Wars” phenomenon. One of the latest and most coveted for the hard-core fan takes some of the conceptual drawing of characters developed by artist Ralph McQuarrie and brings them to three-dimensional life. Ideas for characters such as R2-D2, C-3PO, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers and Chewbacca have become figures. Additionally, for this year’s San Diego Comic Con International, an exclusive set has been devoted to a pair of legendary Jedi Masters.

Figures profile: From the package: “In his sketches, concept artist Ralph McQuarrie evokes the graceful power of a ninja master or samurai warrior in his drawing of Obi-Wan. The diminutive Yoda appears leaner and more whimsical than he will ultimately appear in the films, yet he still exudes mystical strength.”

Price: $14.99

Accessories: Packaging gorgeously illustrated with original designs of the characters and an artist’s biography opens to reveal multiarticulated figures, both with partial cloth tunics. Yoda also gets his walking staff, and Obi-Wan has a blue light saber.

More important to the fanatic, an exclusive coin is included to commemorate the figures. The silver-colored collectible can be displayed in one of the 80 slots found in Hasbro’s 30th Anniversary Coin Album ($9.99). Of course, each 30th anniversary figure ($6.99 each) released this year gets a coin to make the quest to complete the album a pricey scavenger hunt.

Read all about it: No comic-book series was produced based purely on Mr. McQuarrie’s initial sketch designs, but the books “Art of Star Wars, Episode IV — A New Hope” and “The Art of Star Wars, Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” (Del Rey, $18.95), each with 192 pages, offer a visual avalanche of examples of the mighty artist’s work that ultimately would become the look of the Luke Skywalker saga.

Words to buy by: Those who could not attend the massive pop-culture convention this year will need to check online auctions or specialty shops to have any chance of getting this set. However, of all of the obscure characters and concepts Hasbro has turned into “Star Wars” action figures, this series makes the most sense, as it pays beautiful tribute to one of the architects behind the Skywalker myth.

Hermione Granger

Collectible toy product maker Neca Inc. helps fans celebrate the latest Harry Potter movie, “Order of the Phoenix” with several series of 7-inch action figures. The first wave of very detailed, multiarticulated gems includes Sirius Black, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, the famed young witch at Hogwarts who is a trusted pal to the boy wizard.

Figure profile: From the Scholastic Books Potter site ( “The smart know-it-all at Hogwarts in Gryffindor house has bushy, brown hair, large front teeth and a loud, rather bossy voice. Hermione works very hard and always gets the best marks in her exams. She is Harry’s next best friend after Ron Weasley. Her parents are Muggle dentists.”

Accessories: The figure captures Hermione as a fifth-year student at Hogwarts and delivers a perfect representation of her onscreen portrayal by actress Emma Watson. It gets eight points of articulation, her wand and a cheap display base. Also, as part of a costly trend for the buyers of action figures, she comes with a few pieces to a “build a figure” Dummy Death Eater. Fans will need to buy the Harry Potter and Ron Weasley figures from the series to collect all of the Death Eater parts and assemble them.

Price: $14.99

Read all about it: Harry Potter has never been adapted into a sequential-art format. However, Neil Gaiman’s four-issue 1990s comic-book series the Books of Magic (DC Comics trade paperback, $19.99) chronicles the life of Timothy Hunter, a bespectacled British boy with an owl companion. He can become one of the greatest magicians in the world. DC legends Doctor Occult, the Phantom Stranger, Mister E and John Constantine help him decide.

Words to buy by: New Jersey’s Neca has excelled in quality and detail through its figure work in such licensed properties as “Hellraiser,” “300” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Although fans will appreciate this group of heroes, I am anticipating the second wave of figures, which includes great-looking versions of Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore and a couple of Death Eaters.

Strange but cool

A short look at bizarre products with a pop-culture twist.

Harry Potter’s Wand

(The Noble Collection, $29.50)

A 14-inch reproduction of the boy wizard’s famed spell-casting instrument gets royal treatment from a company known for jewelry inspired by movies such as “Batman Begins,” “Superman Returns” and “The Da Vinci Code.” The wand is made of a plastic resin and shaped to look exactly like its holly-and-phoenix-feather-based equivalent. However, for the price, it should have been carved out of wood.

More impressive is its faux leather case with a red crushed-velvet interior that looks as if it were purchased right from Ollivander’s wand shop in Diagon Alley.

Luke and Yoda: Dagobah Training

(Sideshow Collectibles, $349.99)

Collectors of high-end Star Wars memories can own an 18-inch-tall, quarter-scale highlight of Luke Skywalker’s close encounters with a Jedi Master who always seemed to be on his back.

Limited to 1,150 pieces, this premium-format, hand-painted polystone statue is a mixed-media masterpiece that excels in detail down to Luke’s sweaty hair strands (cast in flexible metal), swamp-stained cloth clothing and the metal buckles used to hold Yoda’s harness in place.

Adding to the authenticity, Luke really resembles actor Mark Hamill (always a difficult sculpt) and Yoda not only wears a mysterious pendant seen in the films but even looks way more realistic than in “The Empire Strike Back.” Completing the pop-culture package, the base design is inspired by Dagobah’s humid terrain.

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